Even in Canberra, hardly anyone had expected the promulgation of a new security pact between the United States, Great Britain and Australia, which would give Australia access to American technology for nuclear-powered submarines.

The leadership trio, consisting of the heads of government Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, was able to use the element of surprise to spread its point of view.

Accordingly, the pact serves the peace in the Indo-Pacific and the safeguarding of the "rule-based order".

The receipt of nuclear-powered submarines will enable Australia to respond to the changed situation in the region.

Till Fähnders

Political Correspondent for Southeast Asia.

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In plain language this means: With the nuclear-powered submarines, which have a greater range, are quieter and can stay under water for longer, the Australian Navy can keep a better eye on China, the new great sea power.

After a meeting of the defense and foreign ministers of the United States and Australia on Thursday, it was also said that the United States will continue to expand its military presence in Australia.

The American army is currently represented in Darwin with several hundred soldiers on a rotation basis.

Farewell to the middle ground

The pact is seen by many as a turning point. Because with the decision in favor of the nuclear submarines and the security partnership with the acronym "AUKUS", the Australians are linking their fate in the Indo-Pacific with that of the United States in the long term. Morrison gave the expression by speaking of an "eternal partnership". If a military conflict should arise between the USA and China, triggered for example by an attack on Taiwan or an escalation in the South China Sea, the Australians could hardly stay out of it.

The country is also saying goodbye to the idea that there could be a middle ground between the powers. It is true that Australians have been loyal to the Americans for decades, whether in the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. But China is Australia's largest trading partner, and Australia's economic strength depends heavily on raw material exports there. In 2018, Morrison had therefore said that Australia would not choose between the US and China.

This assessment has also changed because of China's more aggressive behavior, which recently particularly affected Australia. But even in Canberra, opinions are divided. Many welcomed the "historic step". Among them was the Conservative former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. "This is the most important decision by an Australian government in decades," he said. “The danger is real. We need to be prepared for this, ”said Abbott.

On the other hand, the Social Democratic former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Paul Keating were more critical.

Keating described the pact as a "dramatic loss of Australian sovereignty".

Australia is losing decision-making power over its military engagement.

Kevin Rudd, China expert and head of the Asia Society, accused the Morrison government of a lack of sensitivity in dealing with China.

Another point of contention is whether the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines would put an end to Australian reluctance to use nuclear power.

Australia has around a third of the world's uranium reserves, but the country has banned the construction and operation of nuclear power plants since 1998.

Sections of the conservative Liberal Party, to which Prime Minister Morrison belongs, have been campaigning for a change of direction for some time.